California Pancakes May 12, 2011 No Comments
As some of you may remember, about 3 years ago, in late April 2008, we moved to Santa Monica California. I took a job with a large and well-known search engine/information retrieval (and internet advertsiing!) company that has an office down there. Anyway, the house was packed up, the cat was carried on the plane and we settled into our little beach shack in Santa Monica Canyon. This was a 1000 sf 1950s modular home with a peek-a-boo view of the Pacific Ocean, a large deck in front of the house built around a couple of large palm trees and huge windows facing South and West … oh, and a leaking roof and a working but really old “wow -this is what my parents had when i was a teenager” (early 1980s!) washer/dryer pair outside the back of the house that filled with water whenever it rained. (Basically, much of December, January & February.)
When we first moved down there, we weren’t all able to really move down there. Blake’s job had not yet transitioned him to their downtown Los Angeles office and so for the first several months, he spent 3 or 4 days/week in Portland and came down to Santa Monica on weekends (Thurs – Mon). This scenario left me to my own devices in terms of cooking and eating. At the time, I was walking a lot … I was walking 2+ miles each way into work most days. This was a gorgeous walk through the Canyon and then up on the bluff in Santa Monica park. The ocean was so beautiful and sometimes I’d see dolphins. Sometimes, my sister from London would call me and we’d chat most of my way to work. It was great. But, honestly, I was often hungry because I was walking so much! So, I decided to start eating bigger breakfasts on my walking days.
Whenever I am left to my own devices with food, two dishes will invariably enter the picture at some point: pancakes and french toast. In this case, it was pancakes. And, I call these California Pancakes because I made them quite a number of times during those first few weeks in Santa Monica and I made them this way because on one of the first days I was in Santa Monica on my own, unpacking boxes, I had everything I needed to make these right there.
I distinctly remember making these one morning in those first few weeks and sitting down at our dining room table, facing south across the Canyon and into our elderly neighbors’ romantically overgrown backyard. They had a beautiful, sprawling tree out there with really dark bark and incredible big long, oval leaves leaves that I had admired even when we looked at the house before we rented it. It was lush and tropical looking. As I was sitting there, eating my pancakes and enjoying the tree, I realized what the tree was. It was an avocado tree! I gasped and rushed for the phone. I called Blake right away because this was hot stuff. And, I’m pretty sure the first words out of my mouth weren’t “Good morning.” or “How are you?”. I’m pretty sure they were “That tree in George’s backyard is an avocado tree! Can you believe it? There are avocados hanging from it!” This was definitely cool.
I do really miss avocados. And citrus. And the beautiful purple puffs of Jacaranda trees in the spring. (They look like purple clouds.) And I miss my walk to work and the deck and the view out of the bedroom into the Canyon. And, the bathtub. And the privacy of it all. And, while I don’t have those things now, I have a lot of other great and cool things to enjoy. And, I am lucky to have had a chance to enjoy these things at all. (We often refer to our sojourn in Santa Monica as our “18 month paid beach vacation”.) And, I can still make these pancakes, which always remind me of the beautiful and wonderful things that we loved about our time there …. and somehow they never conjure up the more miserable parts so they are great that way :)
Since I have been on my own this week, I, of course, started thinking about pancakes. I almost made these pancakes but opted to make palacsinta (hungarian crepes) instead. This was mostly because I was feeling quite lazy and didn’t feel like beating egg whites, which is what you have to do for California Pancakes because there is no baking powder. Also, I had just made these a couple of weeks ago when I was on my own for a few days. I put blackberries (from the freezer that I had partially defrosted) in them that time and had them with cinnamon sugar. Yummy! (When I was in Santa Monica, I would eat them with plum jam that I had gotten from a small vendor at the Farmers’ Market. So good!) But, even the palacsinta brought back the memories of my walk to work, the avocado tree in George’s yard and the view of the Pacific through the palm trees from our living room.
Without further ado, here is the recipe for California Pancakes… btw – I usually make a smaller recipe than most folks would because it is just me eating them. If you are going to feed 4 people, I’d double this.
- 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 c. yogurt (if thin yogurt) or 3/4 c yogurt + 1/4 c. whole milk (if thick) – In California, I used Straus Yogurt, which is thin and very tangy. Lovely for this. Here in Oregon, I of course use Nancy’s, which is thicker and more congealed so I mix it with a little milk to thin it down.
- 2 eggs, separated
- 3 tbsps melted butter
- 2 tbsps honey
- Pinch of salt
Mix the flour and a pinch of salt together in a mixing bowl. In a separate container, blend the yogurt/yogurt+milk, egg yolks, honey (slightly softened in the microwave works well) and the melted butter. Stir this into the flour until ingredients are combined. Probably best not to over do it because you don’t want the pancakes to be tough.
Next, in a separate bowl, beat your egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into your flour-yogurt mixture.
Heat your griddle over medium heat. (I always use my Nana’s old cast iron griddle. It is round and beautiful. I think she got it from one of her relatives.) When the griddle is ready (a little water will sizzle easily on it), I always put butter on it and then drop the pancake batter onto it. (I find it best to make larger pancakes with this batter.) If you are going to add fruit to your pancakes, add it after they have cooked for just a minute and add it directly into the pancake on the griddle. Cook until air bubbles/little holes begin to form and the top of the pancake really starts to solidify. Flip and cook for a few minutes longer. Pancakes should be golden brown when done.
Serve with butter and your choice of topping, I prefer honey, thick jams from dark fruits (plum, cherry) or cinnamon sugar. Others really like maple syrup.
Green Garlic “Salsa” April 28, 2011 No Comments
I invented this “salsa” last night. It has an almost guacamole like texture but avocado doesn’t come near it. In fact, I made it up as a twist on avocado based sauces because I was serving my variation of locally inspired Cuban food….which I’m sure wasn’t “Cuban” at all, really.
See, we made a ham for Easter. 16 people. 1 large ham. White beans with pesto. Spring lettuce salad with radishes, green garlic, scallions and toasted buttered bread crumbs. Large dishes of penne baked with cheesy bechamel sauce (a.k.a. “mac and cheese”). Nice Cameron ‘09 Willamette Valley Pinot & Cru Beaujolais. Deviled eggs, biscuits and greens in vinaigrette to start. Along with copious amounts of Prosecco and other bubbly. “Simply The Best Chocolate Cake”, my take on Victoria Sponge (made with rhubarb jam that I made a few nights before) and homemade marshmallows to finish. Anyway, believe it or not, there was a bit of ham left as well as, of course, the bone from the ham. Needed to do something with it. Well, since the only dried beans left in the house were Square Peg’s Black Turtle Beans (yum!), black beans was the obvious answer. So, I whipped up some spicy black beans with ham. And was then inspired to pair the beans with something Cuban-style. Decided to go for baked snapper with a green “salsa”. And that’s where this salsa came in.
To make the salsa, start by getting out your food processor.
Throw the following ingredients into the bowl of your food processor:
- 4 stalks fresh green garlic, green parts and all, roughly chopped
- 3 scallions, green parts and all, roughly chopped
- 6 large pimento stuffed green olives, chopped in quarters (I used those from Santa Barbara Olive Co. They are quite large. If you use the small, more regular sized ones, I would say use 12)
- juice of 1 large lemon
- 1/4 – 1/3 c olive oil
- 1 large handful parsley, roughly chopped
- a pinch or two of coarse sea salt
As I said, throw all the ingredients in the bowl of your food processor, starting with about 1/4 c. of olive oil.
Put the lid on, press “on” and start to whir. Continue to whir, drizzling in additional olive oil as needed.
I whirred this stuff in the food processor for probably close to 5 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides and smush everything closer to the blades.
I scooped it out and we served it on top of baked snapper filets, after they were on our plates along side black beans, rice and some sauteed spinach.
It was delicious this way. But, again, the texture is so surprisingly like guacamole that it would be excellent on a cracker or a chip. Also, the flavor is very versatile and this would be beautiful on top of a fish like salmon. It could also go on top of a taco or anything like that.
In short, it was one of those “a-ha” moments in the kitchen where just puttering around with a little time on my hands, a nice glass of Vernaccia di San Gimignano to sip on and the great company of others in the household, something wonderful transpired.
(btw – we moved to a delicious Spanish red with dinner. An ‘03 Laurona Montsant. Wow! It went beautifully with everything and was a really nice wine imho.)
Grilled Rabbit With Balsamic Glaze April 12, 2011 No Comments
We came up with this on Saturday night. We had gotten a frozen rabbit from SuDan Farms at the Farmers’ Market in the morning. We have a couple of go-to preparations for rabbit, including mustard-fried, various styles of fricassee (most including at least a little bit of bacon and either red or white wine depending on our whim … and either what is open or left-over), grilled with a wet-paprika rub. We wanted something new and, since we wanted to try out a bottle of the ‘07 Artisanal Reserve Pinot, wanted something to go with that.
This is what we came up with.
- One rabbit, cut into pieces
- 1 – 2 tablespoons high-quality balsamic vinegar*
- 1 – 2 tablespoons good quality olive oil
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 – 2 teaspoons freshly chopped marjoram or oregano
- 2 small cloves garlic, mashed through a garlic press
In a shallow bowl or other shallow dish of your choice, arrange the rabbit pieces. Pour the balsamic over the rabbit pieces and massage the rabbit well with the balsamic. Then, do the same with the olive oil. Now, add your chopped fresh herbs, your salt, your pepper and your garlic. Also rub these thoroughly over your rabbit pieces, working it into the rabbit a little.
You should have just enough of everything to thinly coat each piece of rabbit with yummy goodness.
Let this sit for about 30 minutes, preferably at room temp.
Meanwhile, start your grill and get it up to high heat.
Once your grill is hot and your rabbit has been soaking up the balsamic for a little while, throw the pieces on the grill for about 10 – 12 minutes per side. (We cooked ours for a total of 20 minutes.)
That’s it. You’re done. It is absolutely delicious. We served ours with kale raab that had been sauteed lightly with some bacon. The bacon went beautifully with the balsamic flavors on the rabbit. And, the ‘07 Artisanal was a great pairing with this. The whole experience made us decide to pick up a case of the ‘07 Reserve from Artisanal from Mt Tabor Fine Wines and put it in the cellar for a few years. All in all, a perfect early spring pacific northwest meal.
btw – the rabbit would have served four people, especially with another side dish. We had some leftover and I tossed that into a fried noodle dish with ramps, a little bit of bacon and a red wine reduction. We had made wide egg noodles from scratch that went into the dish. Served alongside some lovely purple broccoli shoots from Square Peg Farm that had been sauteed with garlic and a pinch of hot pepper flake from Nature’s Fountain. Frankly, making this rabbit dish is worth it just for the leftovers :)
* – We got our balsamic vinegar from Jim Dixon of Real Good Food. It is excellent, imported directly from Modena. I have to say, when we were in Modena several years ago, we bought some fantastic balsamic vinegar there . This stuff from Jim is the first I’ve found in this country that is of the same quality that we found there. It is delicious, thick and syrupy but not too sweet. Jim also blogs about food and in his weekly emails always shares great recipes and food ideas. He is definitely a Portland food resource worth having on the radar.
Spanish-style Crab Pancakes February 28, 2011 No Comments
A few years ago, this concept caught my eye in Mark Bittman’s NY Times column one week. He called it “Tortillitas With Shrimp“: small pancakes that used garbanzo bean flour and were great appetizers. At the time, I had just purchased some bean flour from Rancho Gordo, a producer of “new world specialty food” up in Napa. (I got the flour during our amazing excursion to the Ferry Building Farmers Market in SF one weekend.) And, we were entertaining good sized crowds for supper somewhat frequently at that time. So, this recipe popped out at me because it was easy and looked like a crowd-pleaser and gave me something to do with that bean flour. Nice! I did a little cross-referencing and found a very similar although not identical recipe in one of my favorite Spanish cookbooks: The Foods And Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas. (BTW – I absolutely adore this cookbook. It is not high-gloss with lots of pictures but is a great,solid cookbook that is clearly written by someone who understands and loves the food she is writing about. It’s awesome.)
Anyway, back to the pancakes. We were living in Santa Monica at the time and, I have to say, I don’t think I ever did make these while we were down there. I did, however, make them when we got back and we held our “California Doesn’t Have To Suck” wine party and had a bunch of our friends over. I used Oregon Dungeness Crab (which is in season in the winter time) and also used all bean flour, no white or other gluten-containing flour.
Recently, I had been talking about these pancakes a lot…mostly because it is winter again and crab is in season again and these are really tasty little treats. Blake’s mom had mentioned wanting to try them. Since we were having them over for supper this past Saturday, I included these on the menu. The recipe below is how I made them, which is different from both Mark Bittman’s recipe and Penelope Casas’ recipe but is definitely similar in spirit. These go wonderfully with a glass of white wine (we were having bubbly) or a cocktail. They are a perfect pre-dinner bite in my opinion. They are quick to prepare and provide a hot appetizer…just in case anyone shows up famished and feeling like they really need something more satisfying than bread & cheese right this second. If you don’t want to splurge on crab, Oregon shrimp would be lovely in these. This recipe made just enough for the four of us without being too many or too few, roughly 10 – 12 small pancakes.
- 1/4 lb Oregon lump crab meat
- 1 small shallot, finely minced
- 1 – 2 tablespoons finely minced parsley
- 1 tablespoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons garbanzo bean flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill as I no longer have that other wonderful bean flour I got on our excursion to the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market in SF)
- 7 – 10 tablespoons water (This last time I think I used 9 tablespoons. I was counting.)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- pinch of coarse sea salt
- olive oil
In a small skillet, heat up a couple of tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and add the minced shallot. Cook slowly until the shallots are wilted and tender. Stir in the parsley and cook for just a bit longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the paprika.
In a bowl, combine the garbanzo bean flour, baking powder, salt. Then, add the water until it has the consistency of a pancake-batter. It should be a little on the thick side and not thin and runny at all.
Then, add the shallot mixture including the oil from the pan and mix thoroughly into the batter.
In a large heavy skillet, heat up a some olive oil for pan frying over medium high heat. BTW – I don’t fry these the way I fry donuts or croquettas. I use a thin layer of oil on the bottom of the pan and get it hot. I definitely make them more like pancakes than like a traditional fritter. So, you want a good coating of oil on the bottom of your pan but nothing even coming close to something to be measured in even fractions of an inch.
Once your oil is hot, drop the batter in to the pan by the tablespoon and smush each pancake down slightly with the back of your spoon to flatten it out. These should be small: about 2 – 3 inches in diameter. Think “bite sized”. Cook for a couple of minute on each side until golden. Drain quickly on a paper towel to remove excess oil if desired. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.
Simply The Best Chocolate Cake February 16, 2011 No Comments
I have made this cake a number of times and it always comes out fabulously. It has a number of things going for it that make it “simply the best”.
First of all, it is a no-nonsense cake . It is everything that chocolate cake should be, i.e., rich, luscious, moist and deep, while skipping over some of the less desirable qualities often found in chocolate cake. It is not dry. It is not overly “cakey”. It is not fussy.
This cake is really easy to make. It also has the advantage of using up egg whites. Yes! This is how I often come to be making this particular chocolate cake … although I wouldn’t keep making it if it didn’t get rave reviews each and every time. I made this cake for New Year’s Eve. I put a lot of effort into a Julia Child broiled chicken dish, potatoes dauphinois and a number of other things …. The big hit of the evening? This chocolate cake. I made it because I had made chocolate pot de creme for Christmas and had egg whites on my hands. I made this cake again this Sunday to follow a Sunday Lunch of roast goose, braised cabbage, mashed celeriac + potatoes and roasted carrots. The big hit? The chocolate cake. The small slice pictured is what was left after our guests departed … I think they were simply feeling that it would be wrong – just wrong! – to eat up the entire thing. And, just like for New Year’s Eve, I made it to use up extra egg whites. I had made a yummy Spanish custard topped with candied walnuts on Friday and had 6 egg whites to do something creative with. This cake is a much, much better choice than meringues in my opinion.
Another great thing about this cake is that you can scale it up if you need to. Got 6 egg whites? Add more chocolate, butter and flour accordingly. It is a very forgiving and easy-going recipe that – no doubt – has been a charmer in the kitchen of practical cooks for some time.
To give you an idea of how easy this is, I am going to write this down from memory. The original recipe is called “Grandma’s Chocolate Cake” and comes from the big red Italian cookbook I use all the time, called Italia in Cucina. As soon as I am done writing down the recipe from memory, I will go look up the page.* I use less sugar than the original recipe, always use coarse sea salt and also find that it needs to cook just a smidge longer than the 25 minutes they suggest. Also, if you need your oven at 325 instead of 300 degrees Fahrenheit, it will work. I’ve never tried higher than 325.
This cake can be made ahead. It is often the first thing I make in the morning when I know I will be serving it for dinner that night. (In fact, I almost always start my dinner party preparations with dessert and then move to appetizers and then to main courses unless something needs to sit or do something for 6 or 8 or 12 hours … Dessert is a bucket load of calories and deserves the cook’s full attention … If you come to my house, you may on occasion get store bought ice cream but always in combination with something homemade … And usually the entire dessert is homemade. Call me old-fashioned. It’s my way.)
I always serve this cake with whipped cream and would not even consider serving it without. To give you an idea of how important I think whipped cream is to this cake I will tell you that, on Saturday afternoon, I made a special trip to the store to buy the whipping cream because I did not pick it up on my regular grocery run. That tells you something right there … especially after the embarrassing episode I had at the grocery store recently when I accidentally bumped into someone (a grandmother admiring her grandchild and grandchild’s mother having a “learning experience” together in the produce section) with my basket at the newly opened New Season’s in my neighborhood. Oops! (I guess I just didn’t realize I too was supposed to stop to admire this “learning experience” and instead was busy doing what I came to the grocery store for… grocery shopping.) Anyway, back to the cake. The cake is great without the whipped cream. But, it’s even better with it … so why not – even if it means that you need to go to the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon?
And, as if this cake couldn’t get any better, you can make it gluten free if you need to. Again: easy-going and adaptable. I have used almond meal to replace the tiny bit of flour that is in it. I expect that ground hazelnuts or oat flour would also work wonderfully.
Here is the delightful recipe that I am sure you will make time and time again to the awe and wonder of your guests:
- 4 egg whites
- 7 oz semi-sweet chocolate
- 1/3 c. butter
- 1/2 c. – 3/4 c. sugar (original recipe calls for a full cup of superfine sugar. That would make this cake much, much too sweet in my opinion.)
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- a pinch or a dash of something to bring out the chocolate: a 1/2 tsp Madagascar vanilla or a 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or a smidge of very finely grated ginger or orange zest or a splash of Grand Marnier (Also not called for in the original recipe)
For the whipped cream:
- 4 – 8 oz heavy whipping cream ( I have been using Gary’s Meadows. Yum!)
- A couple teaspoons of sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon or so vanilla
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
Cut out a round of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 10″ round springform pan. Place the parchment in the bottom of said springform pan and then grease and sugar the pan/parchment. No need to grease and sugar underneath the parchment, btw. If you are interested in knowing, the original recipes calls for flouring the pan. Personally, I don’t think this would be tasty. The sugar on the outside of the cake is quite nice and adds to the slightly crisp crust that makes this cake so lovely.
Melt the chocolate with the butter in a large-ish heavy saucepan over low heat or in the top of a double boiler, whichever you are most comfortable with.
Once melted, remove from the heat and stir in the flour and sugar and whatever your flavoring is.
Allow to cool to at least room temperature. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry and stiff peaks form.
Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture (hence the large-ish saucepan).
Transfer the batter to your springform pan and bake at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 – 35 minutes. (Original recipe suggests 25 minutes but I have always cooked it just a bit longer than that and am not sure why. You could try the shorter cooking time and see what you think.) The outside should be slightly crisp and have a sort of crust almost on the outside but should give way to a rich, moist delicate center that is almost like an Italian “budino”. It will puff up a little bit in the oven and then, while cooling, fall again.
Cool on a rack until it is almost completely cool and the sides start to pull away from the edges. Unlatch the springform pan and transer to a cake plate or other serving platter. One note here: I have never, ever successfully managed to get the cake off of the bottom of the springform pan. Not even with the parchment. The parchment does make it easier to slice and serve the cake, however. (Worth doing, in other words.)
Once it is completely cool and maybe an hour or two before serving, dust with powdered sugar to give it the look of something magical and lovely.
At this time, you can also whip up the heavy cream. I always do this by hand in a very large, shallow stainless steel bowl using my left hand (I am right handed) and the smaller whisk that I bought in Paris but sometimes with one of my Portland whisks. (The smaller Parisian whisk is actually normal sized. The bigger whisk that I got in Paris is huge and I only break it out if I am doing a quadruple+ recipe of something that requires whisking.) As you whip the cream, sprinkle the sugar on top and add the vanilla. I like a soft whipped cream, personally. Don’t get carried away and start turning the cream into butter. Once you have the whipped cream the consistency you want it, put it in a serving bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve the cake in small wedges with a dollop of the aforementioned whipped cream.
* Done. The page number for this recipe in my copy of Italia in Cucina is page 714.
Nana’s Oyster Stuffing November 29, 2010 No Comments
When i was growing up, my mother’s mother – my Nana – would almost always joins us for Thanksgiving. (Sometimes she went to my cousins’ house but mostly she came to our house. ) As I think I have mentioned before, my Nana was most definitely “Not A Cook”. She could cook a steak in butter like nobody’s business but beyond that there were only one or two dishes that she would prepare from scratch. This “stuffing” was one of those other dishes. I grew up being told that my Nana invented this dish. However, after believing for about 30 years that the extremely time-consuming Hungarian Walnut Roll that I learned to painstakingly prepare at age 15 was my father’s mother’s recipe only to find out about 5 years ago that my mother clipped the original recipe from the Philadelphia Inquirer when I was about 2 and recopied it in her own hand a couple of years after that when the original became too tattered to be useful, I am hesitant to believe the family lore about the origins of this oyster stuffing…which incidentally doesn’t get stuffed into anything except people’s mouths. (This use of the term “stuffing” is the classic Pennsylvania Dutch use of the term “stuffing”. The “stuffing” goes inside a baking dish – not inside the turkey.)
Whether she invented it or not, my Nana *owned* this recipe. It was as synonymous with her presence at a holiday as the oft-cited family joke of her asking “Would you like something from the relish tray?” several times of each person at the table during any holiday meal. If my Nana was at our house for Thanksgiving, she was always the one to prepare this dish. Always in the same white Correlle loaf dish with the blue cornflowers on it and the wobbly trivet to go underneath. (My mom still has this dish and the accompanying wobbly trivet.)
And, I will say this, just in case it lends any kind of provenance to the recipe or credibility to the story that she invented the recipe. This stuffing includes the same secret ingredient that her magnificent steaks always did: butter.
I stopped putting this stuffing on the Thanksgiving table as a matter of course some years ago, even though it has many fans. (Incidentally, I stopped serving this well after I stopped serving my mother’s version of cranberry relish which I absolutely adore but is way more effort than I want to put into the cranberries. I now improvise a cranberry sauce every year. This year it was the peel of one meyer lemon, the zest of another meyer lemon, a glass of D.H. Porth Pinot Noir, some honey (a half cup?) and about a cup and a half of cranberries (more or less) boiled until very thick and then chilled.)
No, the oyster stuffing stopped making it to the table not because it is complicated. In fact, almost nothing could be easier to prepare. (Remember, my Nana was Not A Cook.) No, I dialed back on the oyster stuffing because it is quite rich. I just got tired of every year feeling like I should be thankful for a tummy ache. Instead of oyster stuffing and turkey stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and sweet potatoes and dinner rolls and – not that I have every served it on my Thanksgiving table – green bean casserole, we now have a more reasonable meal that makes us feel thankful for all that we have minus the part about wondering why we should feel thankful for having a tummy ache :) Now, we typically serve up an unstuffed roast fowl (although one year I did do oven fried chicken and had to adjust other menu items accordinly), cranberry sauce, roasted root vegetables, homemade gravy, long grain brown rice plus some kind of sauteed leafy green (often with a blast of lemon juice over top). Followed by a nut pie. (This year it was pecan because friends brought some back as a gift from a place where pecans grow. Usually it is hazelnut or walnut.) All of it easy to prepare. All of it lovely to eat. More than we would have at an average Sunday supper. Less than will give us that nasty tummy ache.
This year, however, I added back in the oyster stuffing mainly because Blake and I were spending Thanksgiving up on Hood Canal. We stay at this cabin about 20 or 30 minutes south of Hama Hama near the small town of Lilliwaup … and it has its own private oyster bed! With that kind of access to oysters, how could I not make the oyster stuffing? It’s not as if we hadn’t already eaten our fill of oysters by Thursday. As with the last time we went to visit, I was out there in my Wellies with a rake harvesting some for lunch that second day. (After that, we made night time excursions down to the beach in pitch black and freezing cold (less than 20 degrees) to harvest oysters for our next day’s breakfast, lunch – or oyster stuffing. The tides were significantly lower at night. Go figure.)
I have eaten this dish easily no fewer than 20 or 30 times in my life. It has never been better than this last time when I used oysters that Blake had shucked moments before they went into the dish and a large quantity of oyster “liquor” (i.e., oyster juice) that we collected from the recently shucked oysters as well as from the oysters we had the day before. (Those had been pan fried in corn meal and served with Sarachee mayonnaise.)
So, my recommendation is to get the freshest, smallest oysters you possibly can. Get them in the shell if at all possible and shuck them yourself. Fish them out of a canal, river or ocean if you can. (Please be safe and check shellfish safety warnings first, though.) In fact, get more than you need and shuck them all so that you have the oyster “liquor” for this stuffing. Save the oyster liquor and the liquor from any other oysters you have shucked in the past day or so.
And now on to the recipe for the oyster stuffing which my Nana may or may not have invented but that is delicious whether she did or not and at the very least she had the good sense to make for us and pass on.
- 2 – 3 sleeves *salted* saltine crackers*
- most of 1 stick of butter, depending on how liberally you dot the oysters
- 12 or so small oysters + oyster liquor
- 1 – 2 cups milk
- freshly ground black pepper
- a 1-1/2 quart loaf dish
Lightly grease the loaf dish with butter. Using your hands, crush some of the saltines into pieces and line the bottom of the loaf dish with a healthy layer of crumbled/crushed saltines. About an inch or so should do.
Arrange 6 or so of the oysters on the layer of saltines. Dot each one with a nice but not too large pat of butter. Finish the layer with freshly ground black pepper.
Repeat with another layer of hand-crushed saltines, oysters, butter and pepper. (That’s 2 layers of oysters.)
Finish with a layer of hand-crushed saltines dotted with butter and sprinkled with fresh ground pepper. Do not put oysters on the top layer. (That’s 3 layers of crushed saltines.)**
Now, you’re ready for the last step before baking. Add to the oyster liquor an equal amount of milk. Dump the milk + oyster liquor over the casserole. The liquid should be more or less even with the top layer of saltines. If you are short, top off with milk.
Now, what’s your oven at ? 325? 350? 375? 400? 425?
Frankly, it doesn’t really matter. I think 375 is ideal but this year I baked this for 20 minutes at 325 and then for another 10 or 15 at 400. Whatever your oven is at is fine. If you have a choice, choose 375.
Place the stuffing on a baking sheet (for good measure in case it does bubble over) and bake uncovered for 30 – 40 minutes at 375 and adjust the time up or down depending on the actual temperature your oven is set to.
The stuffing should start to puff up and get brown on top. This is good. Once it is pretty golden on top and puffed up a bit and you can see the liquid bubbling, it is probably done especially if it has been in the oven upwards of about 25 minutes.
Take it out of the oven and let it rest just a little to set up. Basically, don’t put it on the table for everyone to dig right into 30 seconds after it came out of the oven. Put it on the table early-ish while you are getting everything/everyone else corralled to the table and it can sit there and rest while everyone is assembling, things are being brought out from the kitchen, etc., etc..
And that’s it. I told you, it really couldn’t be simpler. Enjoy!
* Do not add salt to this dish! You are using salted saltine crackers. It should go without saying that this dish does not require additional salt but, just in case, I’d like to state the obvious. No extra salt. And, please don’t try making this with unsalted saltines. I made that mistake one year. It is not the same, even if you figure it out and try to add salt. If you feel you must use low salt saltines, fine. But, you are on your own if people ask you to pass the salt with the same frequency that my Nana used to ask if anyone wanted something from the relish tray.
** – When I was a kid, I think my Nana did 3 layers of oysters instead of 2 and 4 layers of saltines. This made the dish very full and it always bubbled over. This could be stressful because it can be hard to get into the oven in the first place and the bubbling over of butter almost always causes smoke of some kind. I did 3 layer of oysters for many years and found it a real challenge. I definitely recommend 2 layers of oysters only and making sure that the full height of your “stuffing” is somewhere between 1/2 and 3/4 of an inch below the top of the dish.
Pickles! November 10, 2010 No Comments
Well, this is long overdue. Here it is, the recipe you have all been waiting for: the Picklewitch Pickle recipe.
This goes out especially to my biggest fans, who have apparently been re-using the brine from a jar of pickles that I gave them a couple of months ago. I don’t see any harm in that at all, but, I’m all for empowering people and feel terribly that I have delayed so long in getting this published.
This is a refrigerator pickle recipe. These aren’t “canned” in a water bath or anything. There’s plenty of salt and vinegar so I don’t worry about them too much but I do keep them refrigerated. I have joked at times about getting a “pickle fridge” and one year I made so many pickles that my friends Chris and Amy at Square Peg Farm generously and graciously let me store them out at the farm in their walk-in. (There was a pickle-fridge tax, which was, naturally, paid in pickles :) )
I love making pickles and so does Blake, although there is the inevitable summer time near-nervous breakdown that the pickles tend to bring on. If you do these in quantity (i.e., more than a couple of small jars), they take some time – especially if you want the jars of pickles to look pretty. There’s usually a day some time at the height of summer harvest (somewhere around mid-August) when I just wind up flopping down out on the lawn frazzled and fraying at the edges while Blake brings me restorative beverages (and sometimes a ham sandwich). There’s just so much to do and after weeks and weeks of it I start to get a little weary: put up cherries, put up peaches, put up green beans, make the eggplant parmesan for the freezer and, yes, make the pickles. (Very wisely, I gave up making jam years ago and now leave that to my mother…who stores the fruit in the freezer and makes her jam in the fall or early winter when she has more time.) I just start feeling pushed around by the food. (I know: whine, whine, whine.) But, as you can probably imagine, I am not the type of person who likes feeling pushed around. But, in the world of seasonal and local eating, there are deadlines driven by the seasons. So, I do my best.
Although this recipe calls for cucumbers as the main pickle-ee, feel free to pickle whatever you want. I always include other vegetables in my pickles.
For the brine:
(This makes about 5 cups of liquid which is about enough for two, maybe three? 1 liter jars I think but, since we always make more than this basic recipe I am having trouble remembering exactly. We are always making more and adjusting depending on quantity.)
- 3 c H2O
- 2 c white vinegar (I use Spectrum Organics White Vinegar)
- 1/4 c coarse salt (I prefer sea salt)
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- Three or four cloves peeled garlic
- A sprig or two of fresh thyme
Boil this stuff up. Turn it off once it has boiled until you are ready to use it. Turn it back on and bring it to a boil again right before filling the jars with it.
For the vegetables:
(These quantities should also be enough also for about two or three 1 liter jars. But, again, the way this works at our house is we come home with a large bag of pickling cucumbers and various quantities of everything else and we just sort of make it all work.)
- A dozen-ish pickling cukes, sliced lengthwise in half or in quarters depending on their size and your tastes
- 1 medium sized onion finely sliced
- A bunch of small carrots, cleaned, blanched and shocked in ice water. (Leave on about a quarter to a half inch of the green top if you can. It looks pretty in the jar. If the carrots are large, cut them lengthwise in whatever fraction you choose.)
- A good sized handful of green beans (I prefer haricots verts), washed, stem end removed (keep the elegant “tail” end) and blanched and shocked in ice water.
- A half dozen or more jalapenos depending on your tastes, sliced into rings
- Several (4-8) whole scotch bonnets or other hot peppers, preferably yellow, red and/or orange, enough for 2 or 3 per jar. (If not available, use whole dry chile peppers.)
For the “pickling spices:
You will also need some seasoning/herbs/spices, etc to add to each jar individually. The rough proportions per 1 liter jar are below. How much to put in really depends on on jar size. If you do a much larger or smaller jar, obviously scale up or down accordingly.
- 1 – 2 tbsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp mustard seed
- 1/4 – 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 1/2 – 3/4 tsp ground cumin
- Many cloves of peeled garlic (6-12)
- Several small sprigs of fresh thyme
- Fresh dill sprigs or flowers or combination of both
- 1 bay leaf per jar
Stage your jars. Fill your jars with vegetables attractively, being sure to include hot peppers in each jar. btw – I think this should go without saying but just in case I will state the obvious: please be sure your jars are clean and that you are using fresh o-rings or lids depending on your jar type. I usually put mine in the dishwasher or wash them with hot soapy water (rinsing thoroughly) right before use. There’s a lot of salt and vinegar in these. Even so, don’t tempt fate. Be sensible.
While you are filling your jars with veggies, you should also put pickling spices in each jar making sure to place these items attractively and so that they are distributed nicely in the jar.
Ok. Now your (clean) jars are ready with veggies and spices/herbs. Bring your brine back up to a boil. Turn it off and pour the hot brine over the veggies in each jar, gently tapping the jars against the counter/the table/your work surface and making sure that the liquid is completely covering all veggies, leaving about 1/4 in of air space at the top. Seal jars immediately after they have been filled with hot brine. (I keep bar towels on hand for grabbing the hot jars and sealing them up.)
For good measure (and because my mother did it and she used to be a scientist), I always turn the jars upside down right after I have filled them. I let them sit that way for a minute or two and then turn them back over in a few minutes to see if I need to add more brine. If the brine level still looks good, I turn them upside again and let them sit that way to cool. After they have cooled for a couple of hours on the counter/table/work surface, I desperately try to find room for them in the fridge between the green beans, eggplants, lettuces and everything else. Let them sit in the fridge for at least 3 days to cure before eating them. They can keep for quite some time once they have been refrigerated. I have kept them for up to a year in the fridge and have eaten them without any unpleasant incidents or side effects.
Pickles are more fun to make when there is more than one of you in the kitchen. They are great fun to make and to eat.
I hope these turn out for you and that you enjoy them as much as we do.
Wild Plum Upside Down Cake August 13, 2010 No Comments
So, this post is going to be boring from a blogging perspective because – gasp! – there is no photo! We will all just have to live.
Last friday night, I made this cake with wild plums from Gene Thiele of Prairie Creek. I show up at the market, presenting Chris and Amy proudly with my offering on their wedding anniversary*. I made it again Sunday night to take into work on Monday as part of a new program I have launched called “Mondays Don’t Have To Suck”. (It seems popular.) Btw – I had to almost literally elbow Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen out of my way to get to Gene Thiele’s wild plums this week. I bought two boxes…and pitted and froze one box for later use. (Freezer magic!)
I have to admit I have an ulterior motive in writing this up here. My recipe is so tattered that I almost can’t tell how much butter it uses. Fortunately I am smart enough to read to the the middle of the line where it translates “amount of butter you can no longer read because your recipe is tattered up” to “1 1/2 sticks”. The left edge of the top of the recipe has been completely torn off for some reason. The original recipe is from a page in a 3 ring binder cookbook. Cookbook publishers please take note: as cute and down-home folksy sort-of church cook book-esque you think this is, it is really a bad idea. Pages rip out and then they get destroyed.
I, of course, have modified the original recipe for a number of reasons. Most notably, they ask that you use an electric mixer. Really? Is that necessary? A wooden spoon works just fine, thanks. They also were not insightful enough to use almond meal for part of the flour. The almond meal makes this a moister more interesting cake in my opinion. I have been making this cake this way for many years and actually think i started doing it this way one day when i was low on flour. Nice.
Ok. So, here’s what you need.
A 9 – 11 inch round baking pan
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 c. brown sugar
some kind of fruit (wild plums, regular plums, pears, peaches – if peaches, pears or plain old regular plums, slice. If wild plums, pit using a cherry stoner.** I make this cake a lot with all kinds of different fruit but my favorite is plum of some kind…but peach runs a pretty close second.) For this recipe, I used 1 pint basket of wild plums. You will want enough fruit to tastefully cover the bottom of the pan you bake the cake in. 4 peaches? I dunno. Look at your pan. Look at the amount of fruit you have. Is that enough fruit to cover the bottom of the baking pan? (Note: it helps if you kind of squint at the fruit and look sideways at it while you are doing this. It makes it feel like you are really sizing it because you really want to make sure that it succeeds in its role of “star” in this cake.)
3/4 c. almond flour/meal
3/4 c. pastry flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 whole large eggs at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract, brandy, grand marnier or other suitable flavoring
1/3 c. whole milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Put 8 tablespoons butter and the granulated sugar (not the brown sugar) into a large bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until light and fluffy. Then, beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating each fully before adding the next.
Somewhere in the middle of this, put 4 tablespoons (1/2 a stick) of butter into a 9 – 11 inch round cake pan with high sides (3 inches at least). Put this in the oven until the butter is melted. I always swirl it around for good measure on the bottom of the pan and then also wipe the sides of the pan with one of the butter wrappers.
Stir the brown sugar into the butter in the cake pan and then layer the fruit on top.
Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter-egg-sugar mixture and beat until incorporated. Then, add 1/2 of the milk and also beat until incorporated. Add the next third of the dry ingredients and incorporate. Add the final half of the milk and incorporate. Add the final third of the dry ingredients and incorporate. Stir the batter one final time making sure to reach all the way to the bottom of the bowl.
Plop/smooth your batter over the top of the fruit.
Pop this in the oven for 45 to 50 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool on a wire rack for 10 – maybe just shy of 20 minutes and then turn out on a plate large enough for the cake and with enough of a lip to catch any sugary, gooey goodness that oozes down the side.
Let the cake continue to cool on the cake plate on the wire rack until morning. Best served cool-ish (i.e., not warm out of the oven but not refrigerated.)
* – This cake was, of course, a far cry from the wedding cake I made for them years ago, which was a very large version of Blake’s birthday cake. Btw – if the fancy ever strikes you, I don’t recommend taking a recipe for 10 miniature cakes and scaling it up to make a cake for 100+.
** – Blake was very helpful last week and offered to pit the wild plums for me last Friday. He got through about six of them (they are small, bigger than a cherry, smaller than a regular italian prune plum) and said “This is going to take forever. How do you do this for cherries?” And then I got out the cherry stoner and he flew through them.
I invented this dish some time ago when we were living in Santa Monica. It is a great weekend breakfast that blake and i regularly enjoy. I’ve made this for a bunch of people and, if they like eggs, it always seems to be a hit. You can use any kind of greens: spinach, swiss chard, collards. Lately, because they are in season, i have been using nettles. You could even use raab if you wanted to. In a pinch*, I’ve also used frozen spinach or frozen collards if there isn’t anything else around.
What you’ll need:
- 1 -2 slices crusty whole-grain artisan bread per person … i really like Ken’s Artisan Country Brown for this right now
- Roughly 8 – 12 ounces of uncooked greens for every 2 – 3 pieces of bread, give or take a little…so this would be a good sized bunch of spinach or a bag of nettles from Wild Things, for example
- olive oil
For each piece of bread:
- 1 thin slice flavorful cheese that melts well**
- 1 egg (i am enjoying the eggs from Big Table Farm’s egg CSA, which is now full. Other great eggs in Portland are available. I’ve enjoyed eggs from Persephone Farms and Wild Things, for example. )
Let’s walk through this math because i am realizing that it is starting to sound more complicated than it really is or should ever be.
For blake and myself, i make 3 pieces of toast, 3 eggs and 12+ ounces of greens. He gets two pieces of toast + 2 eggs and i get one of each. Each piece of toast gets a slice of cheese, so that’s three slices of cheese. i divide the greens among the 3 pieces of toast. I’m not really sure what i think of as a “serving”. Is it two pieces of toast + 2 eggs or 1 piece of toast + 1 egg? Does blake eat two servings or do i eat a half serving? So, just figure out who is eating, show them the picture of the dish above and ask them whether they want one piece of toast or 2. (Yes, use your words.)
Prep the greens
I usually steam the greens for about two – three minutes in a pot with a tight fitting lid with just a couple of inches of vigorously boiling water. I drain the greens, rinse them with cold water and then press out all the excess liquid.
If you are starting with frozen greens, you can just put them in a microwaveable bowl, add a tablespoon of water or so and zap them in the microwave for a couple of minutes on high.
Slice your bread and use your toaster to make toast. When you remove the toast from the toaster, drizzle with a little olive oil or spread lightly with butter. Top each piece of toast with a slice of cheese and transfer to an oven-safe plate. Place in the oven on 200/250 degrees Fahrenheit or so to keep the toast warm and get the cheese melted.
In a shallow sautee pan or skillet large enough to fit 2 or 3 eggs, bring 3 or 4 inches of water to a simmer over high or medium high heat. Reduce the heat to medium high and add a teaspoon or so of white vinegar. Your water should be at a gentle but steady simmer. Add your eggs one at a time, being careful not to overcrowd them. A lot of people feel more comfortable if they first crack the egg into a ramekin and then slide the egg from the ramekin into the water instead of cracking the egg directly into the water. Whatever works for you.
Let the egg poach for a few minutes, maybe 5 or so? i don’t keep careful track of how long it takes, i just watch and see when the egg looks done. Apparently, nobody likes a poached egg that is too runny. (Blech!) You’ll be able to tell when the white has firmed up around the yolk and the egg is looking “done.”
Finish the greens
While the egg is poaching, heat a little bit of olive oil in a skillet or sautee pan. Add you greens and a pinch of salt. Stir. You just want to heat them up a little bit.
Plating & Serving
When your eggs look done, take your plate with toast and cheese out of the oven with a pot holder or oven mitt. (Incidentally, I’ve noticed that a lot of people aren’t expecting plates to be oven-hot, so you might consider transferring your toast to a plate right out of the cupboard. If you do plate this dish onto an oven-hot plate, be sure to put down a hot pad or something on the table unless you are eating on stone or metal or something else heat resistant. Also, warn your eaters that their plate is hot.) Anyway, pile some greens on top of the toast. Drizzle with a little bit of good quality olive oil. Now, using a slotted spoon, remove your egg from the water and place on top of the greens. Voila! Repeat for each piece of toast.
* I recently went to the east coast to visit family. I adapted this dish to make it with what my mom had in the house, which was whole wheat english muffins, sliced provolone from the deli case, frozen collard greens and fresh eggs from my parents very own chickens. It worked. It could have had more flavor overall but, well, there you have it. The eggs were very fresh and beautiful, though, and really came through for the dish. My brother-in-law seemed to enjoy it and joked that it was probably the most nutritious meal he had since he had started his vacation.
** This morning, i made this using Table Rock, a natural rind sheep’s milk cheese, from Ancient Heritage Dairy but i’ve also made this with just a slice of nice aged parmesan. In case you are wondering, though, the Table Rock was spectacular on this but i will have to wait until next spring to enjoy it again. Table Rock is a very seasonal cheese which they only make in the winter. Paul told us that he was down to his last wheel of it at yesterday’s Portland Farmers’ Market.
Cauliflower W/ Buttered Bread Crumbs April 5, 2010 No Comments
At the people’s farmers market last wednesday – the very last day of march – i was excited to find this goregous little early spring cauliflower at, well, i think the name of the farm is Flying Onion Farm. But, i will double check this week.
I served this dish last night along with grilled leg of lamb. It was a big hit. Beforehand, we had been nibbling on homemade crackers, a beautiful Adelle sheep’s milk cheese from Ancient Heritage Dairy, some deviled eggs made with some adorable little just bigger than pee-wee sized Square Peg eggs that Amy had given me when they were here for Blake’s birthday and some carrots from the same farm as the cauliflower marinated in a nice champagne vinaigrette. We ended with a nice rhubarb tart dribbled with homemade creme fraiche.
And, in between, there was great grilled leg of lamb from SuDan Farm (which Blake prepared on our new grill – yay!) and, of course, cauliflower with buttered breadcrumbs. In my opinion, this cauliflower dish is great. It is super easy. It is very versatile and forgiving. Need to let it sit for a while? No problem. Put it in a gratin dish and let it sit in the oven on warm. It’s great with red meats: i often serve it with beef, bison or lamb … or a nice fresh Hungarian sausage dripping with paprika-infused goodness which soaks into the breadcrumb. Mmmmm. Yummy.
It is also great with poultry, like a nice roast chicken or something. But, in all honesty, it practically makes a meal in itself. If i am serving it with meat, because of the breadcrumb, i don’t feel like i need to add another starch to the meal when i make this. And, that is another great feature of this dish: it uses up all of those breadcrumbs i have been known to talk about from time to time. Very nice.
This dish also makes great leftovers, reheating nicely for lunches the next day alongside whatever you served next to it in the first place. (It goes especially well with Hungarian sausage for lunch the next day, becoming a kind of lazy-person’s casserole-like thing. Mmmm. Yummy.)
I’ve yet to find someone, even a child, who doesn’t like it. But, i’m sure there is someone out there who hates cauliflower and simply won’t touch it.
BTW – i have had equally good luck making this from frozen cauliflower. I may have mentioned that we had a super cold spell here right before Christmas. There wasn’t much that was freshly available. So, i bought frozen cauliflower from Stahlbush Island Farms and made this dish with it. It turned out beautifully. So, if, for example, you find that you have signed up for a CSA this summer and you get tons and tons of cauliflower week after week, freeze it up and pace yourself. You can make this dish later in the year from the summer’s bounty :)
Anyway, here’s what you need.
- 1 small but not puny head of cauliflower (or about 2 cups/one package frozen cauliflower)
- 2 – 4 tablespoons butter, depending on taste and how much you like butter
- 1/2 c to 3/4 c breadcrumbs, preferably homemade
- salt to taste
Break apart your head of cauliflower, including any leaves that are on the head. (Use those leaves!) You can cut the stem up into pieces and use those in the dish, too, with the exception of the very, very end of the stem which will be really too fibrous for anybody to want to eat.
Get out a shallow pan with a tight fitting lid large enough to fit all your cauliflower in and put just a few inches of water in it. Add a pinch of salt to the water. Cover and heat the water on high until it is boiling vigorously.
While you are waiting for your water to boil, wash your cauliflower pieces.
Once the water is boiling, add your cauliflower and put the lid back on. Allow the cauliflower to boil/steam for maybe about 3 – 5 minutes or so. It should be just fork tender but not mushy.
Drain your cauliflower and rinse somewhat haphazardly with cool water. You don’t need to go overboard but you definitely want to slow any cooking. (I prefer to have the cauliflower still slightly warm when it goes into the breadcrumb mixture, actually. I find the breadcrumb sticks better this way.)
In a large heavy skillet, melt your butter over medium/medium-high heat. Once melted but before it starts to turn brown, add your breadcrumbs, a pinch of salt and stir around a bit. You will start to get a slightly toasted smell from the breadcrumbs. Just keep a careful eye on them so that they don’t get too brown or burn.
After a couple minutes, go ahead and add your cauliflower. Toss the cauliflower around in the breadcrumb coating it evenly. If you think the breadcrumb is not adhering as much as you would like to the cauliflower, toss some more butter in your pan. Add a pinch of salt if you feel you need to.
That’s it. You can keep it warm on the stove over low-ish heat, transfer it to a gratin (or other oven-proof dish) and keep it warm in the oven for a while or eat it right then and there. Enjoy!